Thursday, February 23, 2012

Flying Colors

Sixty-seven years ago today (or yesterday, if you want to be a stickler for the International Date Line) five Marines and a Navy corpsman were immortalized by a snapshot of their actions on a windswept volcanic island in the Pacific.  

We know their names. 

We know what became of them. 

Yet, not one of them is identifiable by face in the picture.

What is clearly identifiable is the symbolic object of the devotion that drove them across the fireswept beaches of a sulfur-stinking island half-a-world away from home and loved-ones.  

The six men in the picture had, to that point, survived five days of savage fighting that had claimed the lives of nearly three thousand Americans and would claim another four thousand before the strategic island was declared secure a month later. 

More Americans gave their lives in sacrifice for their nation in thirty-six days at Iwo Jima than have died in all the military operations since the Eleventh of September, 2001.

The Colonel is not so simple as to opine that the honored dead at Iwo died for the flag.

But, the flag they followed ashore; the flag they planted on Mount Suribachi (and thousands of other objectives in their global war on fascism); the flag they draped over the coffins of their fallen comrades was sacred to them for what it represented.

It represented home.

It represented family.

It represented ideals that most could not fully articulate, but felt in their hearts and souls nonetheless.

Their kids burned that flag or slapped peace symbols on it.

And, their kids do far worse to it.

The Colonel was at first heartened by the outbreak of overt flag-waving post 9/11, and then quickly disgusted by it.  There were some truly respectful displays of the flag -- but, the majority flying the flag, in the Colonel's not-so-humble opinion, were doing so out of the most shallow conformation with the culture's latest fad.

How does the Colonel reach this harsh condemnation of his fellow citizens' actions?

It's a simple test.

Those who truly fly the flag out of respect, care for it.

They don't let it rot, tatter, and fade, nor fly in the dark.

They fly it more prominently and more respectfully than the flags of their favorite college football team.

They don't plaster it on their cars and pick-ups where it quickly accummulates layers of grime.

They don't wear it as an article of clothing or integrated in the cloth.

They stand quietly and respectfully when it is presented or passes by -- hard to do when it's plastered on the bumper of a beater.

It is not the flag's physical colors and cloth we should love and respect, of course.   The flag's true beauty, like all true beauty, is visible only to the eyes of the heart.    

The Colonel does not mean to discourage you from flying our flag.

He asks only that you use as your guide in its care the memory of men and women whose last full measure of devotion was laid on the altar of freedom while advancing the ideals of freedom and human dignity represented by the flag.

When you raise the flag, remember the men who raised it on Suribachi.

When you handle the flag, remember the flags that covered the caskets of those who fell.

When you fly the flag, remember the men and women whose last view in this world, a world away from home, was of the cherished symbol of home.      
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